On Jan. 24, 2010, Michigan teen Kelsey Raffaele was killed in a car accident caused by talking on her cell phone while driving. To prevent further tragic fatalities, a law in her name aims to ban young drivers from talking on their cell phones. This week, supporters of Kelsey’s Law gathered at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing to urge the House Transportation Committee to discuss the bill before the end of the month. Though this law is a step in the right direction, it’s not comprehensive enough. Kelsey’s Law should be expanded to not only include young drivers, but also the rest of the population from distracted driving.
The bill proposes that level one and two drivers can be pulled over for a primary offense for talking on their cell phone while driving. More than 30 other states have similar laws that ban cell phone usage while driving. Statistically speaking, using a cell phone to talk or text while driving causes nearly 28 percent of all car accidents. Nationwide found in a January 2007 study that 73 percent of drivers admit to talking on the phone while driving. All people are distracted when they talk on a cell phone, not just teens. Furthermore, of those who told Nationwide they supported legislative restrictions on cell phone usage, 75 percent said they felt the restrictions should apply to everyone, rather than a specific demographic.
According to the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, drivers talking on cell phones are 18 percent slower to react to brake lights. They also take 17 percent longer to regain the speed lost when they stopped. These statistics are indicative of the importance Kelsey’s Law has and the necessity of its enforcement to everyone on the road.
Opponents to the inclusion of the general public in the law say that it’s necessary to use phones to multitask while commuting. In recent years, however, car manufacturers have introduced vehicles with built-in, hands-free Bluetooth systems. The car communicates with the phone wirelessly and the phone call comes in through the car’s speakers. Automobile manufacturers should continue developing such technologies to make communication safer en route. With Bluetooth systems built into new cars and headsets readily available for drivers who don’t have a built-in system, there are plenty of options for drivers who want to follow the law and retain their phone calls while driving.
Currently, only texting while driving is outlawed in Michigan. While inexperienced drivers lack familiarity with the roads and are more likely to be distracted in the car than experienced drivers, there are other ways to target the teenage group specifically. Driver’s education programs and the literature they teach should place a greater emphasis on the severity of the risk taken when one chooses to talk or text when driving. While this is currently a facet of Michigan’s curriculum, it is only mentioned in passing. Whether or not a broader version of Kelsey’s Law is implemented, a concerted harm reduction effort should take place before new drivers ever get behind the wheel.